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Adrian Cadbury’s Inaugural Attwood Address [notes]: 2002

NOTES ON ADRIAN CADBURY’S INAUGURAL ATTWOOD ADDRESS:

11th November 2002

Adrian Cadbury spoke about the relevance of Attwood’s concerns today. He focussed on Attwood’s belief that a sense of community is not retained unless people who are well off recognise their responsibilities to those who are not and also unless all recognise their responsibility to society at large.

He shared Attwood’s belief that decisions need to be taken as near as possible to where their impact would be made.

The Aston Democracy Commission, which Adrian Cadbury chaired, came to reflect Thomas Attwood’s belief that Birmingham people could manage the city’s affairs better than a London-based government.

The Aston Commission worked for two years seeking to find ways of promoting inner city regeneration in the ward – with consultation undertaken from the ‘bottom up’ rather than from the ‘top down’.  In an electorate generally perceived as being apathetic because of the low level of voting, a lively concern was expressed about the poor delivery of municipal services such as waste disposal, street cleaning and policing. Both speakers compared this passivity with the involvement at all levels of local people in much of Attwood’s work for justice and democracy. He had, in fact, to contain and restrain their strongly expressed feelings from escalating into physical violence.

As a ‘country’ banker Attwood would have felt some empathy with local people who brought forward the problems caused by the withdrawal of banks and building societies from Aston because the amount of business being transacted did not warrant the expense of maintaining these branches. People were having recourse to money lenders who often charged exorbitantly high interest charges and to pawnbrokers.

With help from a consultant at the Birmingham Settlement, Pat Conaty, the Aston Reinvestment Trust (ART) was set up as a revolving fund in which money repaid would then be lent to others. Its objective is not to make a profit but to extend its ability to meet the small business need for loans.  Applicants would have to show that they had been unable to access funds from banks, that their business was of ‘social benefit’ and formulate a business plan showing their ability to repay the loan.

The Democracy Commission found that there was a need to link the neighbourhood with the city council. A frequently heard complaint was that the latter ‘never listens’.  Often, after election, the party role of councillors took over from their representational role. Adrian Cadbury thought that the fact that some independent candidates have been successful in recent mayoral elections indicates the unpopularity of party systems.

The Commission found that the low voting rates reflect realistic attitudes rather than apathy. Voters believed that in all likelihood their vote would make no difference to the quality of the service they were getting. Part of the remedy for this, Adrian Cadbury felt, would be to change the current situation in which central government has assumed control of 80% of the city’s budget, determining not only its size but the precise disposition of these funds, leaving little scope for local government.  He believes that Westminster ought to loosen its grip on spending and decision-making, and local government to devolve decision-making to those closest to the issues. Another important aspect of restoring an active democracy, he said, was to build up the capacities of local people to make decisions.

European precedents were touched on, including the devolutionary steps taken by the French thirty years ago. A passing reference was made to the extent of the responsibilities exercised by the mayors of Lille and Barcelona.

Constitutional means must be found to reverse centralism – one being the move toward regional government. We all have a responsibility to encourage this and say that we shall place our votes with those supporting such policies.

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